Monday, May 2, 2011

Battle Hymn of the House Cat Mother

There are many different "types" of mothers. As Phil and I get older, I feel more and more like I should be having babies NOW, and so I have to start thinking about what type of mother I want to be. This is harder than it sounds.

I certainly know what kind of mother I don't want to be. I don't want to be abusive or neglectful. I don't want to be a mean awful bitch. I don't want to be one of those permissive "friend" moms who give their kids liquor and weed because "experimenting is healthy" and "it's better for them to do it at home, where I know they're safe". (I see these kinds of shoddy reasonings simply as rationalizations for lazy parenting. Just admit that you're lazy and don't want the job of "parent". It's more honorable than trying to slap some sketchily drawn up ideology onto it.) I don't want to be one of those sickly sweet moms who makes you feel like you're drowning in maple syrup by saying things like "Angels are the sunshine that bring smiles to our hearts" or "There are no stupid questions".

But knowing what I don't want to be is only half the battle. I have to know what I DO want to be. The problem is, what I would like to be is a "perfect" mom. The problem is "perfect" moms have to be EVERYTHING. They have to be strong, yet kind. Independent, yet willing to sacrifice everything for their children. They have to supportive and nurturing. They have to be good at keeping things sanitized, and they have to attend all their kids' events and they have to puree organic baby food and help them with their homework.

I'm not cut out to be a "perfect" mom. I am strong and kind, but my kindness is often hidden, and I'm not always good at expressing it. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING for my children. A lot, but not all. I'm very bad at comforting. Ask anyone I've tried to comfort. I would only be supportive if I thought my kids were making good decisions. If I felt they were making bad decisions, I could not stand by and let it happen. A lot of parents feel that they should allow their children to make their own mistakes, and I see their points, but I myself intend to prevent my children from making as many mistakes as I can, at least until they're 21 and are safely out of the "retard" phase of psychological development. I hate watching sporting events and school concerts. No matter how much I want to, I will never be a "perfect" mom. I don't have what it takes.

So I did what no doubt you all expected me to do. I started reading parenting books to try to find the best strategies for raising children. For instance, I highly recommend "Nurtureshock" if you are a parent or are considering having children. Mind blowing! I read "My Life in 23 Yoga Poses" to learn how to be an enlightened, intellectual mother, and realized that I'm not cut out for Seattle-Bohemian-Bourgeouis parenting either. I would never send my kids to a co-op school where they play make-believe all day in unwashed dress up clothes. Ewww.

But I did find one type of motherhood that I feel I can achieve. And I found it in the most horrifying of all places. That's right. "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom".

To be a "tiger mom" or "Chinese mother" (the author uses the terms interchangeably) you need the following skills: 1) An ability to suppress your tender emotions 2)Obsessive personality traits 3)A knowledge that patronizing children and treating them like cute little monsters does nothing to encourage their development. 4) A mean streak 5) A fierce, fanatical love that will do anything - ANYTHING - to make sure your loved ones are happy and successful. Even if it means they hate you in the short term. You aren't trying to win their friendship. You're trying to maintain their respect for you. 6) Knowledge that your kids aren't as psychologically fragile as American society makes them out to be. They can work just as hard as adults can; harder even because they have more energy.

I have all of these traits. Which is not to say that I am 100% suited to the tiger mom role. For instance, I don't know that I could ever punish my child for coming in second in an essay contest. Nor do I think I could punish my children for writing a bad eulogy for their dead grandmother. When it comes to things like that, I know that I don't have what it takes.

But could I make my kid practice violin 3 hours a day? Could I painstakingly write pages and pages of practice homework for them to do, drilling them to make sure they know their vocabulary and times tables backwards and forwards? Could I make SURE that they enter kindergarten knowing how to read, play an instrument, speak rudimentary French and do basic math? You bet I could. It would be harder for me NOT to do those things. Psycho? Perhaps. Will my kids hate me? Absolutely. But they will also be successful, and fully aware of the fact that they are capable of accomplishing anything with the tools I have given them.

I'm not saying I'm going to be a full on tiger mom. As I said, I don't have what it takes. I don't honestly think I could reject a card my kids made for me for my birthday because they didn't put any effort into it, nor would I drag them to music stores for practice sessions while we are on vacation. But it's the parenting style that best suits my natural abilities, frankly. So maybe the compromise is to be a "house cat" mom. Not quite as vicious as the tiger, but of the same family of animals/mothers. As long as I don't wind up being a "guppy" mom or a "hamster" mom, I'll be satisfied.

But then again, I said I was going to be really strict with my puppy too. My soft, sappy, hidden heart is my downfall.

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